Monday, April 30, 2012

Watch this not that (or that)

This weekend Tom and I went down to the Gold Coast to see The Woman in black, Iron Sky and Cabin in the Woods play at their film festival. It was a pretty poor weekend (lots of rain and study time spent in a strange library) but all three films were sensational and deserve a viewing.

So to honour our movie filled weekend I'm going to do a three-way Watch This, Not That.

Cabin in the Woods is the kind of film that works best if you know NOTHING about it. Apparently this film is getting a seriously limited release, we may have seen one of Australia's only showings.

Iron Sky is a hilarious romp about Space Nazis. Add a Sarah Palin-esque president, the "albinisation" of a black model/astronaut ("Black to the moon? Yes we can!"), an Albert Einstein look-a-like and some Nazi jokes  and how can it possibly fail?

The Woman in Black has to convince audiences that Harry Potter is now old enough to be a widow with a four year old son. Despite this challenge, it manages to deliver a creepy atmospheric movie that manages to meld the iconic Hammer style of horror cinema with the visual spectacle of J-Horror.

All three deserve a watch, but given the limited chance everyone has to see Cabin in the Woods on the big screen (so worth it guys!) I'm going to have to say WATCH Joss Whedon's movie about [BLANK], NOT Old-timey Harry Potter or Nazis on the moon!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mini Graphic Novel Reviews

 American Vampire (Volume 1)
By Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King

Synopsis: This volume follows two stories: one written by Snyder and one written by King. Snyder's story is set in 1920's LA, we follow Pearl, a young woman who is turned into a vampire and sets out on a path of righteous revenge against the European Vampires who tortured and abused her. This story is paired with King's story, a western about Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire-- a stronger, faster creature than any vampire ever seen before with rattlesnake fangs and powered by the sun.

My Thoughts: Twists to vampire lore can be done, as this graphic novel demonstrates over and over again. Screw diamond skin and vegetarianism, this graphic novel pits the traditional Euro vamps against the new, brash and a little trashy American breed. They can walk in sunlight, contact crucifixes and are drained of power by no-moon nights. There's raunch, revenge, power struggles and a sweet little writer who struggles to keep up. Plus, you know...Stephen King.

Black Gas
Written by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Max Fiumara and Ryan Waterhouse

Synopsis: A tiny little island off the east coast of America sit on a fault in the underlying tectonic plate. On a night beset by a fierce storm and an earthquake simultaneously, the fault line cracks, releasing something foul from the Earth's guts, blown across the little coastal town of Smoky Island. The only two people on the island who were outside the reach of the black gas are now trapped on a spit of rock with a population that aren't what we'd call "people" anymore. After all, they started eating each other an hour ago... and it's about to get worse.

My Thoughts: Meh. I usually adore Warren Ellis and hold him up as a personal god, but this was completely lacking his sparkling dry and twisted humour. The concept was solid, but the characters were infuriating (especially the girlfriend, oh how I hated her!) and the dialogue completely lack lustre. I really don't know what was going on in this one, but it's low on my list of recommends.

Adapted from a Stephen King short story by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev.

Synopsis: There is something unearthly and mysterious deep in Acherman's Field in rural Maine. There is a Stonehenge-like arrangement of seven stones with a horrifying EYE in the center. And whatever dwells there in that strange, windswept setting may have brought about the suicide of one man...and harbor death for the OCD afflicted "N.," whose visits to the field have passed beyond compulsion into the realm of obsession.

My Thoughts: Now this is more like it! Stephen King's short story tackling compulsion and monsters and a stone henge like formation comes to terrifying life in this graphic novel. The illustrations were a bit of a let down at times, but for the most time they did what they were supposed to...emphasise the crap out of the horror story Stephen King spun and make me terrified to turn off my light! A definite must read if you like King, supernatural tales and graphic novels.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Film review: Slither (2006)

Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Nathan Fillion
Elizabeth Banks
Michael Rooker
Tania Saulnier

Synopsis:A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.

My thoughts: I saw this film when it first came out in 2006, but it failed to make much of an impact on me at the time. In the last year or so, however, I've heard it mentioned over and over by people who typically share very similar movie tastes to me. So thinking that perhaps I was in a bad mood, or maybe simply too young, I decided to give it a second shot. Thank god I did!

Slither is one of the best throwback/parody horror films I've seen in years! The film mixes aliens, mutated monsters and zombies into the one film, and manages to perfect the balance between gross-out, humour and horror, all while delivering a cast of characters that are fleshed-out and hilarious in their own special way.

After a rough interaction with galactic space goo while trying to get his groove on, Grant Grant (Rooker) returns home with an alien burrowed in his brain and a desperate desire for meat. Unbeknownst to his sweet, but kind of dippy wife Starla (Banks), Grant is slowly transforming into a persistently hungry alien-monster, hunting down the neighbourhood's pets and farm animals for food, before turning to a larger and more desirable meal, people. Armed with the face of a 15 year old Pizza Hut worker, and two tentacle/scorpion tails projecting from his chest, Grant begins to terrorise the town, feasting and turning the locals into zombie-like worker bees with a gazillion slimy worms helping him succeed. Faced with the fact that her beloved (though hardly perfect) husband is now some kind of alien, Starla teams up with Bill Pardy (Fillion) and Kylie (Saulnier) to try and save themselves and the town.

The whole cast are incredibly likeable and have great chemistry together. Fillion, as usual, is the loveable rogue, though he's a little more inept in this than he is in his more famed role in Firefly. His adoration for Starla is barely concealed, and becomes noticeably more awkward the less human (looking) Starla's husband becomes. While Starla and Bill are inarguably the stars of the film, Bill's quips and scenes with Kylie, your typical teenage girl, are some of my favourites. Hands down though, the best performance in the film is tied between Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry, who plays the town mayor. Henry is an absolute riot, but Rooker manages to display both humour and geniune empathy with his transforming character. His love for his wife is obvious, even if he's perhaps the worst person to ever try and display it. I've always enjoyed Rooker as an actor, but this film has completely sold me on him.

Writer/director James Gunn (writer of 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake) cut his teeth working for Troma, and there is a distinct Troma feel throughout this film, as well as a couple of discreet little plugs for them dotted here and there (keep an eye on the TV screen at Grant's lady's house). The special effects are primarily physical, but extravagantly so. There is no subtlety to these effects, everything is big and slimy and insane, but the quality is high and almost Conenberg-like at times...if you dialled Cronenberg up to 10,000! In fact, there is no subtly whatsoever in this film, and if it wasn't aiming to be shlocky it'd be bordering on terrible. From the effects, to the southern accents, to the town hunting party, to the longing looks that Bill shoots at's all larger and more bizarre than life could ever hope to be. The film never takes itself seriously, and all the bad reviews I've seen for this one seem to be from people who fail to recognise this.

You'll find yourself laughing far more than you'll find yourself hiding behind your eyes in this one, but it makes a decent horror film nonetheless. It's a throwback film, but amidst the extreme behaviour and stunts is a troop of quality actors doing a fantastic job, so if you're looking to be entertained, or if you enjoy your horror with a large helping of hilarious, then I think this is the film for you. Keep an eye out for the scene in the barn, it's...well, let's just say it needs to be watched!

4 out of 5 zombie deer stomps in the face.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekend Feature: Watch This, Not That.

Since it's Friday the 13th and the law states that you HAVE to watch a horror film tonight, I thought I'd use this opportunity to introduce a new little feature we're going to have here at Hail Horrors, Hail.


In case the name isn't explanatory enough, let me lay out the basic idea. I'll pick two films I've seen recently and in a sentence or two advise you which of the films should rocket up your must watch list. To start this new feature off, here are two Friday the 13th appropriate films for your weekend viewing...

Oldboy isn't technically horror, but it's one of the most fucked up revenge stories you'll ever see. The fight scenes are balls to the wall awesome and Oh Dai-Su (played to perfection by Min-Sik Choi) eats a live octopus (see picture)...that actually happened!

Then there's Rosemary's Baby, as classic a horror film as there ever was. If the graphic decline of Mia Farrow isn't terrifying enough, there's the whole demon baby/bunch of cultists thing to help push it over the edge!

But there can only be one winner in Watch This...Not That, and this week you should...

Watch Oldboy. Not Rosemary's Baby!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Film review: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Directed by: Troy Nixey

Starring: Katie Holmes
Guy Pearce
Bailee Madison

Synopsis:A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.

My thoughts: Don't be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of a 1973 tele-movie by the same name. A childhood favourite of writer Guillermo del Toro (he sat out directing this one), this film is a horror-by-numbers. It isn't bad, but it certainly isn't great, and delivers nothing new.

When Sally (Madison) reluctantly moves to live with her dad (Pearce) and his girlfriend, Kim, (Holmes) while they restore an old home, she comes face to face with small, spindly fingered fairies. At first she thinks they want to be friends, but their hostility soon grows and she begins to fear for her life. Her attempts to tell her dad are stonewalled, and instead of shipping her back to her mum, a psychologist is brought to speak with her and she's medicated. As her dad grows more distant as he immerses himself in the house, Kim begins to think there may be some truth to Sally's fears and searches for proof.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark isn't a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it suffers from a lack of ambition. Rather than invest in a complicated and dark horror story, it settles for simple scares and fills in the gaps with expositionary scenes that, in all honesty, are some of the worst I've come across in a big budget film like this. Part of the problem seems to be that Del Toro concentrates on the fairy/monsters far too much. Similar to Pan's Labyrinth, this film has an abundance of scenes which show these incredibly detailed and creepy looking creatures. Unlike Pan's Labyrinth, however, these creatures aren't enough to ride the entire film on. It's also a little strange to see such a scare-heavy film actually show you the creatures from very near the start of the film, usually they try and build up the suspense and let you make them creepier in your own mind first.

There are attempts made to add a story in amongst the creepy fairy scenes, but they aren't particularly strong and few of them seem to go anywhere. There's the psychology side which could have built the film up into quite an interesting psychological horror film if they'd hidden the creatures for a little longer, or the upset little girl who hates her stepmum-to-be and blames "fairies" for the destruction of Kim's property, or even the historic tooth fairy thread introduced at about the three quarter mark, but none of these threads ever seem to really go anywhere. Instead they're all tangled up into this mess of a story, which is a real shame because there is enough decent dialogue and action sequences to see that there was a pretty good film buried in there.

My other issue was with the casting. Bailee Madison was incredible as Sally. She cycled through an entire library of emotions depending on the scene and was very convincing. For some strange reason they picked Katie Holmes to be her father's girlfriend, even though the two females look uncannily alike. When I saw the ads for this film last year I had assumed Sally was Kim's daughter, but apparently not. I also have a complete aversion to Katie Holmes, so I can't be sure whether my dislike of her in this film was due to that, or actually due to miscasting. Guy Pearce, however, is an actor I rarely dislike in a film, but I just felt like he wasn't utilised to his full potential in this film. His character swings around, from hard-ass dad, to loving dad, to distant dad, to overbearing boyfriend...because he isn't as central as Kim or Sally, I think they just decided not to develop him as thoroughly as they should have.

Perhaps they were struggling with the constraints of the original film and grappling with how much they could change and how much should stay the same, or perhaps they just completely misread what this film needed to be. Either way, it's a passable film, but easily forgettable. The creatures themselves are a work of wonder, not quite as amazing as those who appear in Pan's Labyrinth but there has obviously been a great deal of love and attention given to their creation and animation. Like I said, this isn't a bad film, there were some genuinely interesting and scary scenes, and the overall quality of the cinematography etc was of a high caliber, they just missed the mark. A shame really.

3 out of 5 carousel night lights. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cinema Obscura

On Friday night Tom and I made our way through the Brisbane city streets looking for a marking on a wall and a difficult to locate property number.

Hidden down a narrow pathway that ran beside and then below the Tribal Theatre was our boon, the location for Brisbane's new secret society, Cinema Obscura.

Ok, so secret society may not be quite accurate, but Cinema Obscura is definitely a secret cinema experience. Open to a maximum of 50 guests, each month a cult/classic/much loved film will be shown in a new and unique Brisbane location.

For the opening night we were treated to Rosemary's Baby projected onto a makeshift screen in the old orchestra pit that has a history of murder, violence and ghosts. Surrounded by like-minded film lovers, this was the perfect cinema experience. The make-shift seats may have been a little painful by the end of the film, but the open (ish) air location with it's theatrical and historic significance, classic horror film (one of my favourites!) and respectful audience (no mobile phone bullshit with this group) were perfect.

I can't wait for late April when the next Cinema Obscura showing will be...who knows where?! All I can say for certain is that the location will have some sort of relevance with the film and Brisbane history, and the film will rock my socks off. Here's hoping for two horror films in a row!